Next week the first of the year’s Major golf tournaments, the Masters, gets under way on the manicured lawns of Augusta National.
The eyes of the golfing world will be focused on the tournament with a fervour not even the venerable British Open can match.
Nick Price, who never donned the winner’s green jacket in a career, which brought him just about every other honour in the game, summed up the awe the Masters generates perfectly.
“I’ll take any Major I can get,” said the winner of two PGA Championships and an Open champion in 1994, “but if I was able to pick, it would be the Masters.”
Price never finished better than fifth, though year after year the amiable Zimbabwean was one of the marquee names during his career; a player the galleries wanted to watch.
But as a draw card he paled into insignificance when a 21-year-old named Eldrick Woods, but universally known as Tiger, came to Georgia in 1997 and took the first of his 14 Major titles by 12 strokes from Tom Kite. The victory margin and 18-under total of 270 remain tournament records.
This year, his marital troubles still not fully healed scars on the collective memory, his carapace of on-course invincibility gone forever, and his form erratic at best – he is currently below 170 on the money list – Tiger will be a missing face next Thursday, opting instead to have his suspect back put under the knife.
Love him or not, not having Tiger around leaves a big hole.
He, more than anyone – even the legendary Jack Nicklaus, whose career record of 18 Major victories is the near-sanctified mark Woods is trying to chase down – has been the catalyst for the veritable explosion of the game over the past two decades.
He is also largely responsible for the rocketing prize money, of which it must be added he has banked close on $110 million over his career.
Having Tiger on the tee equates to money in the bank – and while the well-heeled members at Augusta National will maintain it is not a priority at the Masters, they, like all of us, will miss Tiger.